On Demand Disrupting The Game?


Do many of us watch TV as it happens much anymore, or buy CDs and DVDs for that matter? It’s not surprising then that after the disruptions in the TV, music and film industries, live sport isn’t far behind from changing entirely as we know it.

Live social continues to cause tensions as both live events and pay-per-view content is streamed illegally on Facebook Live and Twitter streams.

Sky Sports’ changes to programming in 2017 reflects not just how fierce the competitive changes for the pillars of sports broadcasting are, but how far audience expectations and willingness to pay pricey subscriptions have come.

ESPN were losing up to 10,000 US subscribers every day (ouch) in 2016, with viewers turning to digital streaming rather than pay out monthly bills. In the UK, top-level football has already had a Game-of-Thrones style land grab, with Sky surrendering part of their monopoly to BT, who are paying an additional £100m-a-season for Champions League rights since renewing that deal in March this year.

Sports rights continue to shift, with multi-platform and lower subscription channels edging into the frame. The ATP World Tour have sold their rights to Amazon over Sky, with Amazon also gaining streaming rights for 10 NFL matches, something Reuters report that advertisers will be expected to pay in the millions for individual packages around that content.

The USPGA won’t appear on Sky despite the new dedicated golf channel with a desire for ‘broad, multi-platform distribution’ and next year the UFC end their seven-year partnership with Fox -something no doubt Amazon and Twitter will be acutely aware of.

It didn’t go unnoticed that Twitter advertised for a Head of Live Sports recently. Whilst they’re no longer streaming the NFL, they continue to stream NHL and lacrosse games (both college and professional), recently signing a deal to stream 1,500 hours of e-sports.

Twitter’s recent deal also includes deals with The All England Club to stream Wimbledon highlights and clips, the Canadian Football League to stream a live weekly show, Sela Sport to stream matches of the 2017 Arab Championship club football tournament as well as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) to stream 19 games for the 17-18 season.

Perhaps Twitter is finding its niche, or establishing where it can make up lost revenues from the NFL streaming rights, through this spate of live sport deals, the streaming of five UK election specials in May plus the 24-hour news channel with Bloomberg launching this year.

So far, however, content giant Netflix have ruled themselves out of the live sports race, instead focusing on longevity from their film, TV and documentary content. In its Q1 letter to shareholders this year it said;

“Our focus also is on on-demand, commercial free viewing rather than live, ad-supported programming….investors ask us about Amazon’s move into NFL football. That is not a strategy that we think is smart for us since we believe we can earn more viewing and satisfaction from spending that money on movies and TV shows.”

Perhaps then, the Netflix move into live comedy and music shows, with additional backstage interview and information, create a different field of content that also fits with its longer shelf-life of film and TV content. Other live content Netflix has explored in the US is the Ultimate Beastmaster – teams from various countries compete against each other to crown a champion and filmed over six nights in front of a live audience. Unlike sports events though, the shelf life proves longer term, a move which fits with the rest of their brand.

Netflix are wanting exclusivity of content though, something that underpins all their worldwide rights bids, although some non-exclusive rights are also conceded. With sports recognising the need for multi-channel, non-exclusive deals, combined with high price tags and short-term shelf life, do all combine as a turnoff for Netflix.

Let’s not dismiss what the BBC will bring to the table – they may be the dark horse disruptor we were not expecting. Their announcements this week about streaming coverage of sports like women’s rugby, for free, could perhaps broaden their reach and engagement alongside their mainstream coverage, just at a time where you could perhaps say Sky are narrowing and focusing theirs through single-sport only channels.

But what does that mean for rights holders and the campaigns developed either directly for or linked to sports coverage?

Devising content for campaigns around sports is increasingly in need of creativity, here’s a hit list of things to consider.

  • Content fit for consumption: you can’t rely on one piece of content to work with live sports when it’s consumed on TV, on-demand, or on social, not least because the format of the sports content will increasingly vary.
  • Integration isn’t new – but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to continually check how your campaigns link together, drive engagement from different audiences and make sense, whether you’ve caught some live clips on a Twitter stream or a full match on TV.
  • Rights holders have a broad view: that one deal may not be the best way to boost your sports’ reach today. Meticulous agreements that offer flexibility and consider both mature and emerging audiences are critical.
  • Never say never. Platforms like Netflix may not be moving into live sports right now, but their documentary content is thriving (check out ‘Icarus’, a documentary on Russian doping as proof), so peripheral content within sport is very much alive and kicking across channels and should be monitored.
  • Your own content strategies need to make sense: as audiences’ expectations continue to shift, your own content strategies need to keep adjusting. NBA’s move to encourage audiences to share clips from matches so that they could crowd-source content, totally stood apart from the super-regimented and rights-obsessed sports approaches of the past.
Photo by Dan Rozier, Unsplash.

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